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Q. What protein bars are good protein bars? What do I need to know to pick one?

Heyla,

Any bar that meets your needs is a good bar. :-)

Now the question then becomes "what are my needs?"

Well, I'd say it boils down to a few very standard things. Specifically: How many calories; what is the breakdown of Protein, Carbs and Fat; How expensive is it and how does it taste?

I can't answer to people taste buds, so I'll ignore that question. :-) That leaves me with calories, nutritional value and price.

Calories:
To determine what your standard calorie intake should be, I really recommend Hussman's site. To work out some specific examples: For a person with a lean weight of 150 pounds aiming to eat 1800 calories a day for weight loss, this breaks down to 0.4 x 1800 / 4 = 180 grams daily of protein and carbohydrate, and about .2 x 1800 / 9 = 40 grams of fat. So if you're having 6 rations a day, each one would be about 30 grams of protein, 30 grams of carbohydrate, and just over 6 grams of fat - for a total of 300 calories per meal.

Now, lets filter that with some more specific data. Most of the numbers I've seen from people counting calories and using Hussman's site to determine what they should be taking in, is approximately 1400 calories. This then breaks down to 23.34 grams daily for protein and carbs and just barely over 5 grams of fat per each meal of 233.34 calories.

So, if your bar has more calories than that; consider it carefully - are you willing to give up some of a different meal (a "real" meal) so you can finish that bar? If not, what are you going to do with the left over bar?

Nutritional Value:
This one is again a somewhat numerical based question. Lets focus on the two things that most of us are trying to avoid - refined sugars and fat. Just to give a reference, 4 g of sugar is the equivalent to 1 teaspoon of raw sugar. Check the value of the bars that you like. How much sugar is in it?

Fat. Based on the math we did above (for a person taking in 1400 calories a day) you should only have 5 grams of fat per meal. Now, at least if you're having a RTD shake or homemade shake or bar you automagically KNOW what the fat amount is; but this may not be a protection. If the bar contains more than the amount you are supposed to have per meal, that means that balance has to come from SOMEWHERE else in your daily intake.

Just remember that the value of these bars is in their pre-packaged portability; you don't need them and should only use them in the context of your daily food intake.

Price:
The best place I have found that does an actual comparison of what's in the popular bars and what they cost is here:
http://www.bodybuildingforyou.com/protein/protein-bars-compare.htm
From that site, the top 3 pick for best value:
1) Met-rx bars - Cost per bar (CPB) = $1.75 | Cost per Gram Protein (CPGP) = $.065
Calories per bar: 340 Grams Protein: 27 Grams Carbs: 50 Grams Sugar: 29 Grams Fat: 4 (2 saturated)
2) Pure protein and Methoxy-pro - CPB = $2.08 | CPGP = .069 (tied for second)
Pure Protein: Calories per bar: 280 Grams Protein: 32 Grams Carbs: 13 Grams Sugar: 2 Grams Fat: 4
Methoxy - pro: Calories per bar: 280 Grams Protein: 30 Grams Carbs: 13 Grams Sugar: 7 Grams Fat: 7 (4 saturated)
3) Solid Protein bars - CPB = $2.25 | CPGP = .075
Calories per bar: 290 Grams Protein: 30 Grams Carbs: 8 Grams Sugar: 0 Grams Fat: 7 (4 saturated)

But that's about people who are focused on building muscle; not necessarily on loosing weight. So let's look at that list again. Specifically, factor it against what we just talked about for sugar and fat.

Suddenly the best choice is the Pure protein bar - it has the lowest sugar; and 0 saturated fat…but it's still 50 calories more than a meal for that person on a 1400 calorie daily intake...

Problems with labelling:
If you look at the chart (http://www.bodybuildingforyou.com/protein/protein-bars-compare.htm) you'll notice that Met-rx and Myoplex protein bars have WAY higher carbs than others. This isn't necessarily true. The others just didn't report the amount of carbs in the bar. They write in fine print that glycerine is not a carb - the FDA considers glycerin a carb.

Glycerin is used as a sweetener and to add moist texture. The problem with protein bars is that you need to add a LOT of sugars and other stuff to make it taste good. So generally, the better a protein bar tastes, the less healthy it is. Sad reality, I know. :-( Luckily this is starting to change as people are discovering the wonders of splenda. :-)

To give you a sense of how bad it is (and this doesn't include the impact of the Atkins game of "net carbs"…
A study done by Consumer Reports labs in 2001 studied the contents of 30 nutrition bars. Over 60% of the bars failed to meet their labelling claims, which means over 18 of the 30 bars tested made false claims on their labelling.

Out of the 12 protein bars tested - 1 passed.


So - the net? Any bar can be a good bar; just make sure you know what it is and how it fits into the rest of your daily meal plan.

Research pulled from:
http://www.hussman.org/fitness
http://www.bodybuildingforyou.org
 

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